Tales from Outer Suburbia

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

We've been fortunate in WA to have artists with a particular feel for our suburbs, though perhaps it's hardly surprising. Perth dominates the entire State and its own constantly renewing newness dominates the city itself.

Our best writers have often been products of places that were, at the time, on the growing city's frontiers. Tom Hungerford's South Perth and Dave Warner's Bicton, Tim Winton's Karrinyup and Shaun Tan's Hillarys were all, once, outer suburbs. No doubt their creative successors are growing up now in Ellenbrook and Success.

Spare Parts Puppet Theatre's Tales from Outer Suburbia is based on a third of the 15 short stories in Tan's book of the same name. His outer suburbs are places of imagination and incongruity: a water buffalo grazes in the lush grass of vacant quarter-acre blocks, a girl rows down the street in a boat with a bird on its prow. A withdrawn foreign exchange student with a leaf head lives in his host's pantry, while poems on scraps of paper roll up into a ball and float above the suburb.

It's surreal but keenly evocative. Imaginations, in particular those of the five to 12-year-olds it is primarily (but far from exclusively) aimed at, are tweaked by the phantasmagorical exposed beneath the mundane.

Bringing an artist who writes in images to the stage demands an inspired design and Sohan Ariel Hayes' work for this show is exactly that. He shrinks Tan's neighbourhood to a miniature diorama of streets and lanes, houses and yards that we explore in close-up images from video cameras manipulated by the cast.

Tan's characters come alive in this tiny, fascinating world. I was a little envious of the show's performers, Bec Bradley, Imanuel Dado and Chloe Flockhart (with Humphrey Bower providing a mellifluous narration), because I could happily play with this set for hours.

Tan's stories are often lonely, whimsical and abstruse. While we take them in, it's interesting to experience the heightened reality that object theatre, combining live, filmed and drawn action, puppetry and human actors, can achieve. We also sense it in the work of the Weeping Spoon gang (The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik, It's Dark Outside) and Barking Gecko's excellent current staging of Storm Boy at the Heath Ledger Theatre.

Done well, as Tales from Outer Suburbia undoubtedly is, it's exciting, wonder-making and emotionally powerful.

And it is done well, but not perfectly. The integration between the live action, puppetry and multimedia effects is not entirely effective and it gives the piece a somewhat disjointed pace at times. For that reason, and perhaps because some of the pieces have been brought a little too reverentially to the stage, the action sometimes lacks the energy its source material and design promises.

But these are not serious shortcomings, and the Spare Parts team, led by its artistic director Philip Mitchell and adapter Michael Barlow, are more than capable of doing the necessary tweaking to make this a favourite in their repertoire.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting